December 2015

Kimchi

My friend Andrew kindly let me photograph him making kimchi yesterday, which turned out to be such a pleasure that i’m making this post out of it.

Kimchi? you ask.  But wait.  A Han and an Anglo-Saxon making a Korean delicacy?  What could go wrong?  Well, not much since Andrew is a highly skilled experimental chef and wisely thwarted my need to pitch in by limiting my only contribution to just rinsing a handful of utensils, and that, under close supervision.

Besides, he’s done this before and followed the detailed recipe on Maangchi, a splendid Korean recipe site.

He’d started by spending the morning prepping the ingredients, knowing full well that if this were not done before i arrived, i’d be standing around whining and reaching for knives.  So when i arrived, everything was already mise en place.

Like the juilenned scallions, daikon, and carrots.

julienned scallions, daikon, and carrot

 

The chopped daikon.

chopped diakon

 

The peeled onion, garlic, and ginger.

Peeled onion, garlic, and ginger

 

The cincalok.  Do pay attention to the caution in the last paragraph of that link and open the bottle gently over a bowl, as the fermentation process tends to cause it to leave the bottle of its own volition once you remove the cap.  I’d never had this stuff, yet another Asian spin on good old Roman garum, but it’s so flavorful that it makes plain old Thai/Vietnamese “fish sauce” seem bland.  As does the smell.  You can see that this bottle has already been opened.

cincalok

 

The Korean red pepper.  This has its own distinctive taste without being quite as hot as western red pepper.  The grind is somewhere between chile powder and chile flakes, much coarser than American chile powder.

Korean red pepper

 

Chinese rice wine.

P1020520

 

And young nappa cabbage, quartered lengthwise and brined.  We’re so hopelessly provincial here in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area that we believe St. Francis was named after us, so naturally we spell nappa cabbage “Napa”.  It’s not.  “Nappa” is regional Japanese referring to vegetable leaves.

Brined nappa cabbage

 

The first step is to rinse, gently loosen, and wring the excess moisture from the brined nappa cabbage.

rinsing and loosening the cabbage

 

Then toss the peeled onion, garlic, and ginger into the food processor and grind it down very small.

grinding the onion, garlic, and ginger

 

Throw in slugs of cincalok, Chinese rice wine, and Thai fish sauce and continue grinding.

Then add two whole cups! of that Korean red pepper, finish grinding, and dump into a mixing bowl.

P1020518

 

Mix in carefully the julienned scallion, daikon, and carrot.

P1020521

 

Evenly distribute this mixture between the leaves of the cabbage.

P1020523

 

And place the packed leaves into a container.  This one’s small because he gave it to me so i could ferment it myself.

kimchi, ready to begin fermentation

 

But wait.  Close readers will be wondering what happened to the chopped daikon?  That just got mixed with the leftover stuffing mixture and stored in the refrigerator for a pungent little Happy New Year garnish.

And one to you, too.

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Everyone For Themself

I introduced myself to a man at Stephen’s Christmas party who said his name was Shine. What a strange name, i thought, but then later he mentioned he was Austrylian.

 

Facebook reared its head the other day, and a post about changing language standards came up and was quite entertaining, particularly the part about the use of they and their as gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronouns.

Let me say right up front that if someone wants me to use the pronoun “her” in reference to him, i ignore the testimony of my lying eyes and do so.  This is common courtesy in a day in which growing numbers of people are not cisgender.  Likewise, if someone wishes me to avoid pronouns that carry sexual identity and referred to her as “they”, i readily do so.

And yes, in contemporary American spoken English, it is quite standard to say, “Every citizen should pick up their trash” even though not all that long ago “his trash” was standard and not just because men are trashier than women.

But still, the proliferation of they and their as third-person singular pronouns grates.  After all, English already has a gender neutral third-person singular pronoun, it.  Alas, people have such a strong aversion to using it in reference to themselves and other humans that they use they, their, and them as singulars even though this leads to the creepy back formation themself.

Another problem i see in the use of they as a singular arises with the question of what verb to employ.  Take a simple case:

“Everyone does what he wants”.  When we change that by using they as a singular, we get “Everyone does what they wants”.  And immediately everyone squeals that it should be they want.  How can this be, i ask, since third person singular verbs are inflected with “s” as we see at the beginning of the sentence in Everyone does.  “No no”, they says, “even though i am using they as a singular, it’s really still a plural and must take the plural verb want”.

Well, actually, they has a point here, so i’ll go ahead and say they have since it sounds so much better.  After all, when Victoria used the royal “we” in reference to herself, she did not say, “We am not amused.”

Late Note:  In response to this post, a friend emailed me:  “See also http://blog.oup.com/2016/01/gender-politics-generic-he/ and its link to https://illinois.edu/blog/view/25/280996 by the same writer.”  Carefully researched and breathtakingly eloquent.  I was wrong wrong wrong.  Besides, the singular they always did sound just fine, which means that it has been in common use all my life.

Later Note:  My timing on this post was terrible, as the American Dialect Society has joined the crowd howling for my blood.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/donald-trump-may-win-this-years-word-of-the-year/

I’m thinking this might also be a good time for me to stop sniping at “fun” as an adjective.

One Last Note:  I wrote that English already has a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun, it, but that people didn’t like it referring to them.  The irony, it strikes me, is that the reason they don’t like it is that it strips them of their gender whereas they allows them to keep their gender without specifying it.  I should have pointed out that we have another gender-neutral third person singular pronoun, one, but that it’s so formal and old fashioned that it’s impossibly prissy.

Meanwhile, since we’re talking about grammar, how ’bout this bastard offspring of German and English on Washington Street.

Werk or Works, dammit

 

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A Great Reversal

Socialist? No problem, but a President who’s only a year younger than i am? The horror, the horror.

 

A few days ago i jumped on the Segway and rode around to the block of Jess Street that borders the southern side of my apartment complex.  I stopped at a house near the east end of the block and rang the doorbell.

A woman answered the door, and i introduced myself as her new neighbor who in September had moved into the apartment complex behind her back yard and who passed her house daily on his trips downtown. I’d spotted the heavily laden Meyer Lemon tree in her front yard, had noticed a good many fallen fruit, and had a proposal to make.  If she would give me five pounds of the lemons, i would make a marmalade of them.  I’d get about ten jars and would give her three in the spirit of nineteenth century barter.

When i paused, she said, “No spik good English.”

Oh dear.  So i heaved a sigh, rose to the occasion, and told her the main points of that in Spanish.  Oh yes, i made some mistakes.  I stuck in the French word for “behind” instead of Spanish, but since i was pointing and there was no other apartment complex in the neighborhood, she understood. I didn’t know the word for “jar”, so i had to say “closed glasses” and mime screwing a lid on.  And i’m sure i got the gender of some of the nouns wrong, but she was smiling and nodding and clearly understanding.

Then she broke the bad news.  It was not a Meyer lemon tree but rather an orange tree.

Crushed, i told her that a marmalade was not possible because oranges were too sweet, and she responded that hers were sweet and offered me some just to eat.  I said, OK, i’d take a couple, and she said to take a lot.

I thanked her, saying she was very nice but that two would be enough.  Which i took.  And then a few days later swung by and gave her a jar of my Rangpur Lime Marmalade.

So what’s the big deal about that anecdote, you ask?

Well, a while back i’d whined about my mind slowing down so badly that i could not learn new Spanish vocabulary and conjugations for the past tenses, so i’d missed the last two classes and was working up my nerve to formally drop out.

This encounter made me realize that when push came to shove i could get along in Spanish and that dammit all i just needed to redouble my efforts to learn more.  And then i sat down and pounded on the past tense conjugations until i was able to repeat them all.  Kept singing them all several times during the morning, and whaddya know, i was able to repeat them the following day and stick them on several verbs. For example, the preterite, without looking at the book: é, aste, ó, amos, aron, í, iste, ío, imos, ieron.  etc. etc.  Next i’ll start pounding in the rules about when to use which tense.

Also, i went ahead and learned the word for “jar”.

I had great fun learning my beetje of Dutch, but Spanish actually comes in handy in California, and besides Sr. y Sra. Yerena, my longtime vendors in the city, are just delighted that i’m now speaking mangled Spanish with them.  Gotta improve it because when i met the Sra in 1996 she could barely speak a word of English, and now she’s just plain fluent.  Can’t let an immigrant farm wife outdo me.  Legal immigrant.

Meanwhile, the Seed Bank, a 1925 bank now repurposed as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company’s west coast location.  An astonishing selection of seeds (you want 25 varieties of okra?), books, and a selection of high end gardening tools and gardening supplies under a thirty foot hammered metal ceiling.  A clean, naturally lighted place at the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and Washington Street.

Seed Bank

 

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The Bigot

No no, not Trump.  Me.

I wasn’t always an anti-religious bigot. Even though i lost my faith in my early teens, i thought of myself as an agnostic, never felt any animosity toward religion, and continued to think of it as largely a good thing. Hell, i even routinely donated money to churches and their charitable causes.

And then in the nineties i read Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man: Half a Life and, after initially being shocked at the harshness of his criticism of the Roman Catholic church of his youth, realized that he was quite right, that the root of anti-gay prejudice in this country was the Christian church. This was sobering, and at that point i began to be less favorably disposed.

And then, in 2008, came California’s Prop 8 in which the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches dumped tens of millions of dollars into advertising that relied on utter mendacity like the claim that failure to pass the proposition would result in clergy being forced to marry gays when in fact they would merely be permitted to perform gay marriages.

My outrage at these lies transformed me overnight into a radical, anti-religious atheist who has since seized every opportunity to bash the Christian religion, most especially the Roman Catholics, a task made easy by their egregious behavior like our Archbishop’s letters to the Senate arguing against the ENDA on the grounds that ending employment discrimination against gays would just encourage their sin.

So i’ve foamed and spewed for seven years, most recently in my previous post, which i intended as a Swiftean satire in the model of “A Modest Proposal” but which unfortunately was so good that it sounded like i really believed it.

Which, on some level of vicious mean-spiritedness, i guess i did.  After all, everything i wrote there was true.  The down side is that i ignored some critically important additional truths.

For example, it is self evident that the Bible calls for stoning for all the offenses i listed.  What i didn’t mention is that even the most fervent Christians today do not seem to be running around stoning sinners.  I’ll even give ’em enough credit to admit that i don’t honestly believe that more than a minuscule minority even want to stone sinners anymore.

And yes, it’s certainly true that as soon as the Roman Catholics in this country were able, they fostered legislation restricting the sale of contraceptives.  But again, i didn’t mention that by now, not only can you buy contraceptives everywhere in the country, but also, in a peasant revolt that i find sublime, the Roman Catholic laity are nearly universal in their use of them, so much so that the hierarchy has pretty much entirely given up this fight and stopped railing against their use.

Which leads to the really important fact i left out of that post, that what we have seen over the last several hundred years in Europe and the Americas is a continual decline in the power of the Christian church.  They haven’t been able to execute folks for heresy since the early part of the nineteenth century (Spain, 1820’s).  In the wake of Roe vs. Wade the Roman Catholic church continues its fight against allowing women to control their own reproduction, but it continues to lose almost all of its battles.  Likewise, the areas in which the Protestant churches have been able to prohibit the sale of alcohol have grown continually smaller over my lifetime, to the point that only small pockets of purity remain.

But the most dramatic change has been in gay rights, starting in Europe but spreading to this country.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the erosion of restrictions against gay marriage that culminated in last spring’s Supreme Court decision legalizing it for the entire nation.

There are no longer Christian theocracies, Ireland and the United States being the last two to fall, so although there will of course be skirmishes in pockets of resistance like Salt Lake City, the battle has been won.  I do not have to worry about letting more Catholics and Muslims into the country because they will never have the power to deny me my rights even in parts of the country where they might constitute the majority of the citizenry.

What’s to prevent them from doing that in parts of a democratic country where they are a majority, you ask?   Ummm, the same thing that prevents their religion from being declared illegal in the areas where they are not a majority – protection of minorities under the rule of law.  Which in this country, thank God, trumps religion.

The war is over and i have won.    The fastest growing religious group in this country is the Nones, and our cities are dotted with boarded up, abandoned churches.  I do reserve the right to strap on a flight suit, jump on my Segway, and carry a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” three times around St. Mary’s Cathedral, but i’ll no longer write posts denouncing the religious right’s futile attempts to delay the inevitable.

No indeed.  The next time our hateful Archbishop makes one of his pitiful attempts to encroach on the rights of non-Catholics, i’ll just obey the exhortation of that fine revolutionary called Jesus of Nazareth and turn the other cheek, basking in the realization that if i do this, then i, for one, can no longer be called a bigot.

But only because i’ve stopped railing against them.  I’ve barely set foot on the road to forgiveness.

Meanwhile, some sweetness and light.

sweetness and light

 

 

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Trump Didn’t Go Far Enough

“As late capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy Earth’s biosphere or change its rules, many argued for the destruction of the biosphere as being the lesser of two evils.” – Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel, 2312.

 

Donald Trump has been even more in the news than usual recently over his proclamation that Muslims should be barred entry into this country, setting off a firestorm of criticism from the left, of course, but also from all the other candidates for the Republican primary.

And yes, i need to admit right up front that i wrote a little post back in September in which i expressed horror over the idea of a wave of Muslim immigrants to this country, fearing that they’d behave just like the Catholics did over a century ago when we let a bunch of ’em in and the first thing they did in areas where they were sufficiently numerous was to outlaw the sale of contraceptives, forcing their religious laws on everyone, not just Catholics.  I feared the Muslims would likewise institute elements of sharia law whenever they could.

Nor, of course, did i feel too good about admitting into this country refugees whose holy Quran tells them to kill me.

However, having Trump propose what i was advocating gave me pause.

And then i saw that delightful Dit is Normaal video, which sharpened my focus as i realized that Christian holy scriptures are full of rules at least as awful as anything in the Quran, like stoning to death for those caught working on the Sabbath, adulterers, blasphemers, rebellious sons, witches, and male homosexuals (but not female, which was unimaginable to the men who wrote the scriptures).  This made me think about the misogyny and homophobia rampant in the African branches of the Christian churches, worse than even the Roman Catholics in this country.

And then it struck me.  The problem with Trump’s proposal is that he didn’t go far enough.  Rather than just barring entry to Muslims, we also need to bar entry to Christians since the two religions share the passionate desire to make everyone else obey their rules.

So let’s just go ahead and bar entry to anyone who practices a religion which he wants to force down everyone else’s throat.

And then we’d have a society that truly practiced freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, the winner of the Best Petaluma Dumpster award.

best Petaluma dumpster

 

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Victims

“If you were born again, why would you come back as George Bush?” – Mort Sahl, who’s still performing in Marin

 

Writing that blog post about Jivano at the end of October got me to thinking, and my readers know how dangerous that can be.  Stop, stop, they cried, we’ve seen where this can go.

But cooler heads don’t seem to be prevailing anymore, so bear with me for a few thoughts.

Do we have more victims nowadays?  Obviously, yes, since there are now 7.3 billion of us packed onto the planet, our population having doubled since the early seventies.  Thus, there are simply more of us available to be sucked up into tornadoes, drowned in floods, burned in wildfires, swamped by hurricanes, crushed in earthquakes, and otherwise devastated by natural disasters.

Oh, but it gets worse when we consider what i’ll call unnatural disasters, those made possible by the agency of man.  Our ancestors on the savanna didn’t have to worry about being buried in mines, dropped into rivers by collapsing bridges, drowned by breaking dams, blown up by chemical factories, poisoned by stored toxics getting into the water supply, etc.  Not to mention being killed by nuclear meltdowns, train derailments, airplane crashes, and automobile accidents.

And yes, we’ve always killed each other for the usual reasons like hunger, wars, faithless spouses, and horse thievery.

But the above all produce what i might call legitimate victims, victims who are actually victimized.  What i’d like to look at now is the proliferation of perceived victimhood among those who objectively have precious little to complain about, so much so that we’ve become, in my lifetime, a nation in which many citizens, rather than celebrating their good fortune, see themselves as victims.

As in politics.  A recurrent theme in contemporary political discourse is that The Other Side is victimizing us, which has always been the case in politics.  What seems new, especially in its virulence, is the argument being turned on its head and the victors declaring themselves the victims.  As in our Robber Barons screaming that they’re victims when the downtrodden masses institute such socialist outrages as higher taxes on the wealthy and some medical care for the poor.

Or religion.  Oh good grief.  Surely there has never been a religion whose adherents didn’t see themselves as victims, and certainly many, like the Cathars, were justified in doing so.  But at least back then the Roman Catholics weren’t proclaiming themselves victims while they were slaughtering the Cathars down to the last baby.  Now, i find a bitter irony in seeing American Christians screaming that they’re being victimized when their victims get some court relief from being ground under the heel of the church all their lives.  Yes, i’m a victim because i can no longer persecute the gays, deny women reproductive rights, etc.  I mean, isn’t the right to the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our Nation’s law?  And where can greater happiness be than in keeping gays and women in their place?

Or in our personal lives, and here we excel at victimhood.  Oh lord, do i ever know some victims.

Like the guy who a number of years ago complained to me that while he and i had been paying into social security from the beginning of our employment history and would be lucky to live long enough to get it all back, our mothers had paid into the program only at the end of their working lives and had already got way more out than they’d paid in.  He shut up when i pointed out that neither of our mothers needed the social security money, so it went straight into savings, where it was sitting there drawing interest until he and i could inherit it.

Or the one whose luxury vehicle’s progress is routinely impeded by traffic jams composed largely of the beaters of the less deserving.  Or worse yet, by damn bicycles that should be forbidden on the streets.

Or the woman who owns rental property and is outraged that, owing to rent control, she is effectively subsidizing her tenants.  Of course she conveniently forgets that she is being subsidized by her neighbors whose property taxes are a small fraction of hers owing to not being covered by Prop 13.  Salt in her wound is that if she owned something new that wasn’t under rent control, she wouldn’t be protected by Prop 13.  Poor thing just can’t win.

But my favorite victim is a talented watercolorist who has never worked a day in his life other than at his painting.  Alas, his paintings sold well only for one brief period a number of years ago, so for all but a couple of years of his life, his father has been supporting him.  The father’s reward?  The son has made a cottage industry of painting the father as an abusive villain who has treated him shabbily all his life, and he’s so charismatic that i bought into this myself until i finally met the father and saw that he was a kind and generous man.  And then i started listening more carefully to my friend’s tales of terrible hardship and realized, oh wait, my father behaved the same way.  Hell, none of the fathers in that generation gave their sons everything they wanted, for fear they’d become spoiled brats.  The difference is that the rest of us didn’t run around calling ourselves victims.

Oh, but it gets worse.  Seems that after working very hard at it, the watercolorist got himself declared persona non grata in Germany, which is an amazing tale i’ll save for later, but for now will just add that this wasn’t a problem until the Schengen abolition of internal borders meant that no western European country but Switzerland and England would let him in.  So the evil father spent a fortune on lawyers getting the charges lifted so the victim could continue to reside most of the year in the Netherlands.

Coda:  My prayers that the rotten old fart would live to 120 and leave the bulk of his estate to a home for unwed cats were not answered.  He died last spring and as his final horrible act of victimization, left the rest of his money to his victim.

Meanwhile, an eloquent roadsign.  Ummm, the street has been paved with gold?

eloquent roadsign

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Michael Garlington

“He was small and lithe, like a house cat.” Arundhati Roy talking about some guy in Moscow rather than me.

 

I was abseiling down the Zugspitze…

No sharks in these waters, i said…

At 80,000 feet, the left aileron began sticking…

The howling of the wolves grew louder…

He pulled my noose snug…

When they swarmed onto the deck, i fired my last round and drew my knife…

The Kommandant barked, “Diese Papieren sind nicht in Ordnung”…

The anaconda slithered closer…

The other squad members were all dead…

I swallowed my last sip of water…

The Comanches blocked the only way out…

I struggled to reattach the oxygen hose…

I was Segwaying down D Street behind enemy lines when i spotted this.  Adansonia in Petaluma, i wondered?

by Michael Garlington

 

Doesn’t look dangerous, i thought.  But then, as i drew closer i noticed something enticing.

by Michael Garlington

 

And this.

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I rolled around to the end of the building, giving it a wide berth, and saw something else interesting.

by Michael Garlington

Detail.

by Michael Garlington

 

The door was open.  There was only one visible occupant, a woman who appeared to be unarmed.

I glided slowly to the door, dismounted, tucked my helmet under my arm, and keeping my hands visible, called out a cheery “Hello?” The woman looked up and smiled, a good sign, or was it a trick?  I stepped inside.

No net fell from the ceiling, no armed guards sprang from trapdoors in the floor; so i relaxed, identified myself, and remarked that i was curious about the mural and sculptures on the side wall.  Were they hers?

Oh no, they’re Michael Garlington’s and this is his studio.  I took a brief tour and learned that Michael is there a lot, his presence marked by a white van parked at the door.  I went back this morning and caught him inside.

Michael Garlington

 

Michael has done some very interesting sculpture although his finest piece, the 40′ tall “Photo Chapel”, is not in the studio, it having been commissioned by Burning Man and burned there last September. But here’s a video that includes footage of it.

The studio is at 40 4th Street in Petaluma, northwest of the D Street Bridge.  Tell ‘im Matte said Hello.

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